Lead, Follow, or GET OUT OF THE WAY!
“I’d like to learn ballroom dancing, but I have a serious aversion to being led… Anyone know how to fix that?”
Personally, I dislike the term “follow”. Society has given it negative connotations – “oh you’re not a leader you’re just a follower.” Yet as women we’ve been raised to take a lead in our own life, in our family, in our school, in our work, in our community. So how could we suddenly relinquish everything we’ve learned and become a “follower”?
Perhaps reframing how you’re viewing the female role in ballroom dancing would help (it sure helped me). As the woman, you are choosing to be receptive while letting the man fulfill his equal but different role in the dance pairing.
A dance couple that responds well together makes a smooth, flowing and flawless dance despite the experience level of either partner. It’s impossible for two people to move as one if they’re both making their own decisions about the dance, doing their own steps, and choosing their own timing. Someone has to be in charge of that part of the dance in order for the two to move in unison.
Going against his suggestions does nothing other than make the dance look stiff and novice. You don’t HAVE to go where he requests, but to make the dance look best you would want to. You are the “responder,” reading his cues and choosing to respond in order to complete the most appealing dance possible at that time, with that partner.
When I first started taking ballroom dance lessons (before training as a teacher), I had a hard time originally with backleading my partner as well. (For all of my former partners reading this – I apologize!) For one thing, I was a more experienced dancer and picked up the steps quicker. Shouldn’t I make sure that “we” ended up doing the next step on time?
The first part (and majority) of my dance life was spent dancing solo. You go to class and learn specific choreography, and even though you’re dancing with other people on the stage, and at times even dancing with a male partner, you both have your set choreographed moves that need to be completed in a certain sequence and timing in order for any moves with that partner to be possible. Even in this case, one person (your choreographer) has set those steps, sequence and timing, and you are simply following.
With ballroom dancing, you’re supposed to wait for your partner to tell you what step to do next and when. He is the choreographer. He does that by leading. If he does nothing, you’re supposed to wait until he does. If he leads you into a step that you weren’t expecting (we don’t call these mistakes in my class – they’re “variations”), then you forget what you were expecting and do the new step.
It’s hard in this day and age to surrender so much control to a man. It’s even harder if he’s an inexperienced dancer and his leading skills aren’t as sharp. But I know from experience that he will learn how to lead quicker if you are only responding to what he’s giving you. If he does nothing and you both end up standing there while other couples around you are moving, he will quickly realize that he needs to give you better (or any?) signals. As he begins to do so and realizes that his lead works and is making the two of you dance well, he will become more confident in his abilities, become a better leader, and this will allow you to relax and do your part as a responder, making the dance flow naturally.